Here’s why MLK Day is more than just another day off

Here’s why MLK Day is more than just another day off

Since 1986, the third Monday of January has been reserved to commemorate the birthday, life and legacy of one of the nation’s greatest leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King—a Baptist preacher, scholar, and arguably the greatest leader of the Civil Rights Movement, selflessly fought for the equal rights of not only African Americans, but all people.

In a time when Jim Crow and legal segregation were the law of the land, Dr. King became the face of a movement that sought to dismantle the institution of racial injustice. He advocated for persons in poverty, spoke against the Vietnam war, and worked to ensure that all Americans had equal rights and protections under the law. Nearly 50 years after Dr. King’s assassination, his legacy lives on.

Although MLK Day is a national holiday, the ways in which people choose to celebrate—or not—are endless. Many schools and organizations across the nation will have the day off and/or host an MLK Day program, while others may participate in a community service project or attend city-wide marches and rallies.

In Chicago, the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago will lead volunteers in organizing food for distribution to the Senior Food and Nutrition Program in partnership with Catholic Charities. In Kansas City, Missouri, Turn the Page KC will host a book give-away at Southeast Community Center. Atlanta, the hometown of Dr. King, will have many volunteer opportunities including the 7th Annual Street Team for Energy Efficiency and Climate Resilience, hosted by the Center for Sustainable Communities.

“I will be giving 15 keynote presentations at MLK events over the next two weeks.” says Erin Jones, a 25-year educator, public speaker, and former State Superintendent candidate of Washington State. “[However,] I would like to think I celebrate his birthday every single day by living my life devoted to equality and opportunity for all, especially those who are most vulnerable in our communities.”

Just Another Day Off?

As our nation continues to fight issues of social injustice and racial tension, many question whether or not the ideals memorialized on MLK Day—a day of peace and tolerance—hold true throughout the year.

“We need to understand as a country that what [Dr. King] fought for still needs to be fought for today,” says Thomas McElroy, long-time musician from Seattle Washington. “The path towards a country united under the principals he laid down for all of us still need to be worked on.”

So, the question becomes, does MLK Day hold any true meaning in present-day society? Or, has it been reduced to a day off from work and school?

According to Erin Jones, “We have turned the day into an opportunity to rehearse the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.”

“I can honestly say that, personally, I have never celebrated the holiday and have taken it as a vacation day,” says Elisabeth Scott, a recent college graduate of Western Washington University. “It wasn’t until going to my current church, that I participated in an MLK service. Had I not sung [during service], I probably wouldn’t have attended.”

However, Sergeant First Class Derek White, a 16-year member of the armed forces still sees the value in MLK Day, and what it means to the future of our society.

“I think that MLK being observed most definitely holds weight for both older and the younger generations. One way to ensure that our past does not repeat itself is by honoring people like Dr. King and his legacy and what he fought for and stood for.”

The Importance of Generational Knowledge

As an educator, Erin Jones argues that celebrating MLK Day does not have the same significance for young people today.

“Students have no context to understand the gravity of what Dr. King and his peers accomplished,” the educator says. “That being said, I believe it is our responsibility to communicate the value of this holiday, which is why I agreed to speak at so many schools.”

As a professional mentor to students, Jessica Crenshaw believes in giving back to the community, but admits that she does not celebrate Martin Luther King Jr Day—for much different reasons.

“I do not celebrate MLK day as a holiday because I feel the significance of the day has been diminished,” Jessica says. “I feel it has been cheapened down for a “get-off-of-work-free card”.

For Jessica, authentic celebration of MLK Day should include not only service to the community, rallies, and celebration events, but should serve as a day to reflect and organize for long-term change.

“I feel as if people should really take time to reflect over what Dr. King was trying to accomplish, and actually sit down and have planning meetings to plan out actions to make sure that his dream gets fulfilled,” she says. “Concerts and protests are good, but if you don’t continue to do this work after January 16th then you’re not doing it for a real reason.”

4 lessons we can all learn from ‘Hidden Figures’

4 lessons we can all learn from ‘Hidden Figures’

“Hidden Figures” blew expectations beyond the stratosphere with wall-to-wall, movie-goers everywhere.

Audiences across the nation were enthusiastic to finally witness the story of three African American women—Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe)—working as the driving force behind a historic event in American history.

It was these three women who played a significant role in the successful orbit of N.A.S.A. astronaut John Glenn around Earth. And, it was the film adaptation of this New York Times Bestseller that gave “Star Wars: Rogue One” a run for the top spot in just one weekend while grossing $22.8 Million.

Throughout the film, there were several laughs and boisterous commentary from the audience on everything from the intelligence capacity of a woman to racism and gender equality in the work place. Some audience members even had the book in hand while leaving the theater.

“‘Hidden Figures’ made me so proud to be a Black woman,” Kimberly Mayberry of Houston, Texas says. “It also put into perspective how long we’ve been fighting the equality battle and why we should be thankful for those who came before us.”

Although we are able to celebrate the success of “Hidden Figures,” the battle to be considered equal continues today, even with progress made. So, here are four key takeaways from this amazing depiction of lessons we can all learn from this blockbuster film.

“We all get there together or we don’t get there at all.”

The story of “Hidden Figures” takes place during the Civil Rights Era during a time when the race to space against Russia also made international headlines.

In order to make history, NASA recruited mathematician Katherine Johnson, played by Academy Award nominee Taraji P. Henson, to help calculate the launch and landing for the upcoming mission. Although she demonstrated her capabilities to her superior Al Harrison, played by Kevin Costner, Katherine’s work ethic and abilities were hindered by the blatant racism shown by her all-white, male counterparts. This was particularly challenging when she was forced to sprint a half-mile to the “colored” bathroom across campus.

After learning of the situation, Al demands that all members of NASA unify for the progress needed in order to truly make history in the world of aeronautics.

Although African Americans have been forced to take a stand, it is also imperative that we as one human race empathize with the struggle of our counterparts which will ultimately help us move forward together for the greater good.

 

I am my sister’s keeper.

Although Dorothy Vaughan, played by Academy Award Winner Octavia Spencer, is charged with supervising an entire department made up of all African American female aids and calculators (mathematicians), she is informed that she will not receive the official title and benefits of being a supervisor, because she is “unfit,” according to her direct report, played by Kirsten Dunst.

After a series of events, Dorothy learns that her department may eventually become obsolete which inspires her to find a way to show that both she and her team play a significant role in NASA operations.

In fact, the team’s performance was so effective that NASA calls on Dorothy for training her white counterparts in the future. Of course, Dorthy had the ability to just move herself forward. But instead, she paved the way for every woman in NASA because they were all worth it.

It is so important that we, as women, regardless of our race, spread knowledge amongst ourselves if we are going to succeed together as the sisters we claim to be.

Beauty and brains is not a threat to the mature man.

Mary Jackson, played by singer and songwriter Janelle Monáe, is an aspiring engineer, wife and mother. Initially her husband is a bit disgruntled by her absence in the home while she follows her dreams. However, when she is forced to take extraordinary measures in order to pursue a career in engineering he matches her effort by supporting and encouraging her to keep going.

Katherine, a widow and mother of three girls, receives similar support when she is introduced to Colonel Jim Johnson who is enamored with her beauty and intelligence. Although they get off to a bumpy start, the colonel’s admiration and support grows for Katherine throughout the film.

Both of these examples were important to see on film, as some are lead to believe that accomplished women are too smart or independent for love. Instead of seeing it as a hindrance to their overall beauty, the men of “Hidden Figures” see the brilliance of the women in their lives as an asset. That is why it is so important to emphasize to our girls and adolescents that intelligence and accomplishment are a critical asset to overall beauty, and the right man will love you for it.

Perhaps we’re already there.

“Think we can make it to the moon?”- Al

“We’re already there.”- Katherine.

The above exchange takes place between Katherine and Al after NASA’s successful orbit around the earth. Although the characters are speaking about the progress of NASA, the overall conversation is really about vision.

So often, people may have an idea, but they may be unsure how they are going to achieve it. However, it is important to remember that success starts with the mind. Although there are still many roadblocks ahead for women and people of color, no one can deny that we have progressed in unimaginable ways and will continue to do so. “Hidden Figures” teaches us to reach beyond our easily attainable goals by tapping into our well-equipped faith, talents. We are able to achieve greatness, because the truth is we’re already there.

 

Check out the trailer for Hidden Figures below, and see what all of the hype is about for yourself in theaters now.

Retired Ugandan bishop seeks restorative justice for former child soldiers

Retired Ugandan bishop seeks restorative justice for former child soldiers

by Fredrick Nzwili

(RNS) A retired Anglican bishop in northern Uganda is agitating for restorative justice – which emphasizes forgiveness and truth-telling over punishment – in a region where the wounds of a brutal war unleashed by the Lord’s Resistance Army persist.

Bishop Macleord Baker Ochola II, 84, has been responding to community concerns that the modern court system may not deliver justice for the people who suffered in the complex conflict.

In 1980s and ’90s, the LRA rebels, led by Joseph Kony, terrorized civilians in northern Uganda, abducting children and forcefully recruiting boys as soldiers and girls as sex slaves.

Kony turned child soldiers into killing machines against their own community.

By 2005, the LRA had abducted over 60,000 children and killed more than 100,000 people, while displacing 2.5 million people.

Ochola buried the dead, walked with returning child soldiers and at one point was forced into exile.

The conflict took a toll on his family. His wife died in 1997 after a land mine blast hit a car she was traveling in. Ten years earlier, his daughter committed suicide after being gang-raped by the rebels.

But Ochola has refused to remain bitter, choosing to promote peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation among his people.

“If there is no process of reconciliation, there is no healing, and if there is no healing there is no restoration and justice,” said Ochola, who served the Diocese of Kitgum.  “Healing and restoration brings transformation of life for those affected.”

The International Criminal Court in The Hague indicted five top leaders of the rebel group in 2005.

Last month, it put on trial Dominic Ongwen, a 41-year-old former rebel commander who was abducted at age 10. He faces 70 charges, including murder, attempted murder, rape, torture, sexual slavery and forced marriage. He is the first former child soldier to appear before court.

“In the name of God, I deny all these charges,” Ongwen said in court.

 

Dominic Ongwen, center, a senior commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army, sits in the courtroom of the International Court in The Hague, Netherlands, on Dec. 6, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Peter Dejong/Pool

Ochola has been urging the court to carefully reconsider the circumstances under which children-turned-commanders were trapped in LRA captivity.

 

While he does not deny the court’s charges, he fears the court may not offer restorative justice but is seeking punishment or retribution. He is also concerned it will divide the community, which is in dire need of unity in the aftermath of LRA atrocities.

Like many other cultural and religious leaders in Uganda, he stresses a traditional justice system known as “Mato Oput,” which he thinks is more holistic.

Centered on forgiveness, it involves truth telling, compensation and a ritual in which food is shared and the accused drinks bitter herbs.

“It brings restoration to broken human relationships, transforms lives and heals the hearts of those involved,” said Ochola. “The court system, which is retributive, promotes polarization, alienating both sides.”

Mato Oput mirrors many of the forgiveness and reconciliation efforts central to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa and the Gacaca courts used in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide.

Mato Oput is the justice system of the Acholi people of northern Uganda, the community most affected by the LRA conflict.

The LRA left northern Uganda in 2005 and is now believed to operate along the border region of the Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“The LRA is still at large and they are still fighting … so we must continue with the work,” said Ochola.

In 1997, Ochola was one of the founders of the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative, an interfaith organization led by cultural and religious leaders that sought to peacefully end the LRA insurgency. ARLPI has been facilitating grass-roots and intercommunal reconciliation and peaceful coexistence.

One aspect of that is trying to help the government and LRA go through a process of truth telling.

“This would involve accepting full responsibility and making public acknowledgment of what one has done,” said Ochola.

One problem, he said, is the government’s lack of political will to dismantle the LRA.

In the case of Ongwen, Ochola had hoped the former rebel would be brought to the community for truth telling. Since that did not happen, Ongwen will likely refuse to accept responsibility.

“As a victim, he continues to be punished twice,” said Ochola.

Sheikh Musa Khalil, a northern Uganda Muslim leader and the ARLPI vice chairman, backs Ochola, saying that with Ongwen, the traditional system could have achieved more.

“It mirrors what is in the Quran and Bible,” said Khalil. “It’s based on forgiveness. We feel he should have been brought to us.”

The bishop believes a change is needed in the general wordview that when a child is abducted — as in the case of northern Uganda — he or she must take full responsibility in adulthood for any crimes committed while a captive.

“For northern Uganda,” he said, “this is wrong because the children had their humanity destroyed.”

(Fredrick Nzwili is a reporter based in Nairobi)

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Year, New You: The Only Resolutions that Matter

New Year, New You: The Only Resolutions that Matter

A desire for self-improvement and positive change is the very reason why New Year’s has long been my favorite holiday. It’s been the time of year when I’ve been most willing and ready to embrace change. It’s a time when I pause to reflect on my growth and accomplishments to date—whether personal or professional—and then readily consider any areas that might require some adjustments. It’s during this time when I make those required adjustments plain by translating them into a list of resolutions so that, come January 1st, I can become the “new me.”

But, I’ve never gotten around to achieving all of my resolutions—most people don’t. In fact, studies show that only 8% of those who make New Year’s resolutions go on to achieve them.

That’s pretty disappointing.

But the good news is there is the Good News.

I finally began to study God’s Word and found that, as a Christian, I don’t have to wait until a new year to become the “new me” or even an “improved me,” and I certainly don’t have to tackle these changes on my own. The Word has matured me so much spiritually, and that has translated to my personal and professional growth this past year.

Here are three biblical resolutions that will help you, too, become the “new you” in the New Year:

In all your getting, get understanding.

I used to resolve to read more books or master a new language to become more cultured and learned, which isn’t a terrible goal. But meanwhile, I didn’t know much about the God to whom I claimed to devote my entire life.

There is no knowledge any of us can obtain that is more valuable than the knowledge of God. Knowing His will, voice, character, purposes, and promises give us the wisdom we need to navigate this life, and it girds our spirit to commune with Him in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

This wisdom also spills into our familial and romantic relationships and leads us toward wiser financial, career and business decisions. The beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord, and knowledge of Him is understanding (Proverbs 9:10). So, in all our getting, we should certainly resolve to get that!

Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

We might set out in search of a new career or even our life’s purpose in the new year. However, the benefit of first seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness is that you begin to learn that you already have purpose (to glorify God), a destiny (to abide with God in eternity as an heir with Christ), and a job (to make disciples).

Our inherent gifts and talents then indicate how we might best carry out this purpose. From there, we begin to operate in God’s perfect will for our lives. And by being in God’s will, any material resources or people we might need to help us fulfill that purpose will come—and we are guaranteed access to them through prayer (1 John 5:14–15).

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

One year I resolved to smile more, but I still lacked genuine joy and I continued to battle attitude problems, depression, and other sins of the flesh. But the Word of God gives us a renewed mind, which is the mind of Christ.

Through Him we have a new perspective on this life because in Him we find light, love, and truth. And knowing the truth sets us free (John 8:31). It is not enough to read self-help or leadership books for tips and tricks to tackle certain aspects of life. Some might offer helpful treatment. But healing is found in Jesus Christ.

There is so much transformative power in the pages of God’s Word. As you prayerfully study it, the Holy Spirit will do a work in you that puts your New Year’s list of “to- dos” to shame. Making resolutions is great! But filtering those resolutions through the Lord is profitable. This is the only way we will enjoy change that is lasting and accomplish goals that will matter this year and for years to come.

What is Kwanzaa Really About?

What is Kwanzaa Really About?

All week long, African Americans have been celebrating Kwanzaa across the U.S.

Perhaps you may attend a Kwanzaa celebration at your church or even participate in Kwanzaa in the comforts of your own home, but do you really know why? What is Kwanzaa and why do so many African Americans choose to celebrate the holiday?

Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga created and developed Kwanzaa in 1966. Dr. Karenga is an author, professor, and scholar-activist who is passionate about sustaining Pan-African culture in America with an emphasis on celebrating the family and the community.

There are three main ideas that are foundational to sustaining Kwanzaa tradition. The first idea is to reinstate rootedness in African culture. The second is to serve as a consistent, annual, public celebration to strengthen and confirm the bonds between people of the African diaspora. And finally, Kwanzaa is to familiarize and support the “Nguzo Saba,” also known as the “Seven Principles,” which are each celebrated during the seven days following Christmas.

These seven principles represent the values of African communication. They include the following:

  1. Umoja or Unity
  2. Kujichagulia or Self-Determination
  3. Ujima or Collective Work and Responsibility
  4. Ujamaa or Cooperative Economics
  5. Nia or Purpose
  6. Kuumba or Creativity
  7. Imani or Faith.

People celebrate Kwanzaa in numerous ways and have different practices that have been incorporated into their celebrations.

Symbolic Decor

Are you unsure as to how you and your family can participate in a Kwanzaa celebration? A good way to start is to decorate your home or living quarters with the symbols of Kwanzaa.

First start by putting a green tablecloth over a table that is centrally based in the space in the space you intend to decorate. Then, place the Mkeka, a woven mat or straw that represents the factual cornerstone of African descent, on top of the tablecloth.

Place the Mazao, the fruit or crops placed in a bowl, on top of the Mkeka symbolizing the culture’s productivity. Next, place the Kinara, a seven-pronged candle holder, on the tablecloth. The Kinara should include the Mishumaa Saba, seven candles that represent the seven central principles of Kwanzaa.

The three candles placed on the left are red, symbolizing struggle, the three candles to the right are green, symbolizing hope, and one candle placed in the center is black, symbolizing those who draw their heritage from Africa or simply just the African American people. The candles are lit each day in a certain order, and the black candle is always first.

Next, include the Muhindi, or ears of corn, used to symbolize each child. However, if there are no children present, place two ears to represent the children within the community.

Also, include Zawadi, gifts for the children, on the table. And finally, don’t forget the Kikombe cha Umoja, a cup to symbolize family and unity within the community.

Pan-African Creativity

You may also choose to decorate the rest of your home with Kwanzaa flags, called Bendera, and posters focusing on the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Some children usually take pleasure in making these flags or they may be purchased instead. African national and tribal flags can also be created to symbolize the seven principles.

Other ways to celebrate may include learning Kwanzaa greetings, such as “Habari Gani,” which is a traditional Swahili greeting for “What is the news?”

Other activities for celebrating Kwanzaa is to have a ceremony, which may include lighting the candles, musical selections played on the drums, readings of the African Pledge and the Principles of Blackness, reflections on the Pan-African colors, discussing African principles for that day and/or reciting chapters in African heritage. Be creative!

 

Have you and your family been participating in your own Kwanzaa traditions? Share them below.